My Matilijas

– Posted in: Garden Adventures

2 flowers

Long before I had my own garden, I was in love with matilija (mah-TIL-eh-ha) poppies. A shrub of what I then called “fried egg flowers” grew near my apartment. It was one of those plants I had to have somehow, someday. And now I do, but like most things this side of Eden, Romneya coulteri is not perfect. Even so, I exult when I see my matilijas in full, glorious bloom every summer.

Single flower resized

Matilijas are not for the fainthearted. They like a lot of room, and they’re water sniffers. You have to surround them with dry soil to keep them contained. If they sniff moist soil, they’ll jump right into it. Like Mexican evening primrose (which I’ve blogged about, ruing the day I planted it), matilijas are poppies native to Mexico, and rampantly reproduce from underground runners.

Road resized

I situated my matilijas in a far corner of the garden, to screen it from the busy street nearby. The clump does this admirably, but is encroaching on an orange tree.

Flowers on plants resized

I do like the way the globular orange fruit echoes the flowers’ yolk-like centers. But I’ve had to dig a trench between the two, to keep the poppies at bay. 

Matilijas are difficult to get started because their roots don’t like being messed with. But once they take hold, they’re indifferent to soil—mine grow in decomposed granite—and get by on minimal water (though they love it like an alcoholic, and go wild if they get a lot).   

Fence resized

When I’m standing alongside the stems, the flowers are eye level. I’m 5’9″, so that gives you some idea how tall these are. That’s the neighbor’s oak behind them.

Downward petals

Matilija flowers are about the diameter of my hand, with fingers spread. The petals are crinkled like crepe paper, and are as soft and delicate as they look. I wish I could say matilijas make good cut flowers, but they last about a day and then fall apart.

Poppies in vase resized

Matilija poppies will thrive just about anywhere the ground doesn’t freeze, except in extreme desert heat.  To keep growth in check, don’t water in summer. Keep plants tidy by trimming nearly to the ground in fall. New growth follows winter rains.

Debra Lee Baldwin
Award-winning garden photojournalist Debra Lee Baldwin authored the Timber Press bestsellers Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardens, and Succulents Simplified. Debra is a regular contributor to Sunset and other publications, and her own half-acre garden near San Diego has been featured in Better Homes & Gardens. Debra specializes in showing how to use architectural, waterwise and easy-care succulents in a wide variety of appealing and creative applications. www.debraleebaldwin.com.
Debra Lee Baldwin
Debra Lee Baldwin

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MNGarden August 17, 2009, 5:57 am

Wow ! Matiliya poppies are fabulous. A beautiful flower that never needs watering is amazing.
Donna

Hi, Donna — They do need some water, especially during active growth if there’s no rain. But the rest of the year, they can go dry. Debra

Dave August 17, 2009, 8:06 am

Very cool flowers. They remind me of fried eggs on a stick. ;)

Hi, Dave — Yes, or fluffy white ball gowns. Debra

healingmagichands August 17, 2009, 9:41 am

We used to enjoy these when I was a little girl in San Diego, they lived out in the waste places and my mother called them “Cowboy’s Fried Eggs.” Since my ground freezes every winter, I won’t have to worry about containing them here!

Thanks for giving me a quick trip back to my childhood.

Childhood flowers do have a special magic, bringing back memories. Mine are the nasturtiums that grew in sunny places in my parents’ avocado grove. Debra

Randy August 17, 2009, 10:36 am

Those are beautiful! They do look like fried eggs. :-)–Randy

Connie August 17, 2009, 12:47 pm

Matilija poppies are very special to me too. Such lovely crepe paper flowers! So, have you painted “Poppies in Vase” yet? That photo is stunning! The shadow…..Oh, my goodness!

Hi, Connie — Thank you! I had thought about trying to paint them, but there’s so little color I’m not sure how to go about it. I do like that shadow, though. Btw, I think that painting of the backlit pink flowers on your website is one of the loveliest I’ve seen! Debra

the inadvertent farmer August 17, 2009, 2:52 pm

Ohhh my goodness I have never seen those before, I’m going to have to see if I can grow them in zone 8. Lovely! Kim

Hi, Kim — My garden is supposedly Zone 9 but since it gets down to the mid-20s here every few years, I consider it Zone 8. Two winters ago, the matilijas sailed through several nights of 19-degree lows. Give them a try! Debra

Jeannie August 17, 2009, 3:02 pm

I’ve loved these since I saw them in a border at the WPA Rock Garden in Sacramento’s William Land Park… http://budurl.com/landpark Recently I saw them listed for sale at Annie’s Annuals (…for those who are tempted, like me)www.anniesannuals.com.
thanks for the inspiration and the beautiful photos. J

Hi, Jeannie — Thanks so much for letting GGWers know where to find them. I love Annie (and her annuals). Debra

Mom Taxi Julie August 17, 2009, 7:59 pm

Oh those are beautiful!

Susie August 19, 2009, 12:52 am

Love the Matilijas too, thanks for the pointers. I’m planting some at a clients next week…..I don’t want to invade their orchard!

Hi, Susie — Matilijas are gorgeous but can be ill-mannered. Make sure they can’t follow moist soil into areas where you don’t want them. I plant all my gorgeous but invasive plants (matilijas, Mexican evening primrose, centranthus) at the bottom of the slope—their roots and seeds don’t seem to spread upward. — Debra

Nancy August 19, 2009, 6:57 pm

We planted a gallon container of these poppies on a dry hillside 20 years ago, and now we have a huge patch about 10×20, never watered, blooming like crazy. We are in zone 8, in the Santa Cruz mountains. I guess the conditions have to be just right. I’m glad my poppies are not in a garden border!

Hi, Nancy — Sounds like you have the perfect place for them! Debra

Marion Kukula August 19, 2009, 8:01 pm

Oh, one of my most favorite flowers! But now living in Pennsylvania I don’t know if I can have them. Wonder if I could try them in a pot and overwinter in my garage with the rest of my tender perennials?

Matilijas tend not to be happy in pots and are tricky to transplant. Try planting them in spring in your garden’s warmest, sunniest area. Cut back in fall, then mulch thickly to protect the roots from freezing. Debra

Linda Lehmusvirta August 20, 2009, 1:49 pm

These are just lovely! And the photographs are exquisite.

Sue August 22, 2009, 4:13 pm

I came here because I couldn’t remember when the deadline for the photo contest is, and see I missed it by 4 hours. Silly me!

I see why you said these poppies are not for the faint hearted. I don’t have room for aggressive spreaders. I sure love seeing those online, though. I can imagine how awesome they must look in person.

Tamara Jo Rankila August 24, 2009, 7:54 pm

Will these grow in Northern Minnesota?
They are lovely!

Fern @ Life on the Balcony October 12, 2009, 11:49 pm

I first saw matilijas in the garden at Mission San Juan Capistrano. Definitely not a plant you forget! My parents’ backyard has just the right spot for a clump of them…thanks for giving me the idea!

You’re welcome, Fern. Love your blog, btw! Debra

topiary lady October 24, 2009, 2:14 pm

Those are beautiful! Can the seeds be ordered at any seed company. I live in zone 5 but the annual poppies- “lauren’s grape” and “white cloud” seems to do okay here due to their prolific reseeding. Maybe the matilijas would work???? Your watercolors are very nice!